Rory Swann pens his thoughts...
I’m a Charli fan. And when I say fan I mean FAN. I know it’s a stereotype among gay men but I just can’t help it. Everything she’s released since the Vroom Vroom EP back in 2016 has been, at worst, worth a listen and at best mind-blowing. In fact, I guarantee that if you strapped a straight man to a chair and blasted Vroom Vroom at him on repeat, by the third listen he’d be bopping along as much as any homosexual.
The dramatic change in the quality of her music is no doubt thanks largely to teaming up with some of the most innovative producers of the decade, including the late SOPHIE and A. G. Cook. But it also seemed to be the result of a fat middle finger to the music industry. After an underwhelming effort, both critically and commercially, at chart success in the form of ‘Sucker’ (2015), Charli seemed to take back creative control. From then on, it seemed she was making music that she loved, that was completely and authentically her vision, without much thought to charts, sales or fans. It may not have brought her much commercial success outside of a few singles here and there, but it did grow her a truly dedicated and loyal, if relatively small, fanbase.
It was a surprise, then, when I saw a conversation she had had on twitter with one of her fans. “These Charli singles so far…not doing it for me whatsoever,” said @vulnicuravirgo, adding, “but she’s still in my mother’s list.”
Charli quickly clapped back, stating: “this is undeniably my most coherent era” and “if you don’t think baby is a bop then…idk that’s just v suspicious to me…”
This little exchange brought to light just how deeply she cares about how her fans react to her new music, regardless of how many times she says, “I’m not mad” and “again - not bothered”.
Really, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Remember that infamous performance of ‘I Love It’ in Berlin where she screamed “I thought this song was fucking big in Germany! What the fuck are you doing?” at the crowd because they weren’t loud enough? Or when, again in Berlin, she restarted her performance of Vroom Vroom halfway through because the crowd wasn’t hyped?
In fact, this whole ‘Crash’ era is designed to “keep fans on their toes”, as Charli explains in a Rolling Stone interview. Her whole image, it turns out, is revolved around her fans - even if it is to give them the unexpected.
Good art has never been about doing the unexpected for the sake of it. It’s far better to be innovative and creative for a reason - as she has undoubtedly been for the past five years. She has used her platform to bring queer and experimental creatives from the fringes and make some awesome music. Now her subversion of expectations seems stale and hollow. And if you are going to do different for the sake of it, the music has to slap.
Unfortunately, I agree with @vulnicuravirgo. The singles have been underwhelming. Besides ‘New Shapes’ (which is mostly carried by a killer Caroline Polachek bridge), they’ve felt a little too unfinished, confused and…bland. The newest one, ‘Baby’ isn’t bad by any means. It has a great beat, clean production and some sexy, charismatic lyrics that echo the days of Vroom Vroom EP. It reminds me of 2000s Britney Spears, which can never be a bad thing. Still, when listening to it, part of me couldn’t help but miss the colourful, vibrant bubblegum bass of her previous bodies of work that ‘Baby’ seems to brush its fingertips against but never quite reach. It is no doubt a solid dance tune I would happily bop along to in Viaduct, but it lacks the true sense of joyful playfulness I’ve come to love Charli for.
“I’m getting older, I’m getting hotter, my tits are stunning, I’m in great shape, I’m dancing, I’m progressing and I’m living my best life,” claimed Charli during the aforementioned Twitter exchange- now, Charli, can we see that in your music, please?
A Charli Stan.
Words: Rory Swann